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Why Cats Eat Litter & How to Stop It?

A gray and white cat with one paw in a litter bowl with tongue out

While this may seem odd, gross and can indeed be dangerous for your cat, cats taking a bite out of their cat litter is more common than you may think. From curious kittens tasting something new, to a sign of real health issues and everything in between, litter box snacking does happen and should be something you address quickly to avoid bigger problems.

Does my cat or kitten think cat litter is food?

If you notice your kitten tasting the litter, this may be simple exploration. Small kittens are usually learning to use the litter box at the same time they are experimenting with solid food. They may try to eat their litter out of curiosity. However, clumping litter can pose a real danger over time if ingested, so use a non-clumping, non-toxic pellet-type litter until they grow out of this stage.

Some litters are made of corn, wheat, walnut, grass or other plants. Individual adult cats may associate the smell and taste with food and be prompted to snack on them. Alternatively, litter-eating could be a sign of something more serious going on. Just like with kittens, deter your cat from “snacking” and bring your cat to the veterinarian to be sure there’s nothing else happening.

Is it dangerous for my cat to eat kitty litter?

It can be. Eating indigestible matter, including cat litter, can cause an intestinal obstruction or constipation in a cat or kitten. Clay-based clumping litters contain sodium bentonite, which can swell when moisture is added, and form hard lumps immediately or over time. This is a great quality for litter inside the cat box, but not-so-good inside your cat or kitten.

Opened and poorly stored cat litter can also accidentally become contaminated with pathogens. Commercial corn and wheat-based litters are carefully treated to eliminate moisture and pathogens, however if opened and then stored at length in a damp location, aflatoxins can develop that are highly toxic to cats if ingested.

Could my cat’s litter-eating be a sign of a health problem?

If your cat isn’t eating a well-balanced diet, nutritional deficiencies could be prompting your cat to eat litter. Clay litters, for example, contain iron and magnesium.

Pica (the urge to eat things not typically considered food) could also be a sign of anemia, feline leukemia, or kidney disease. A visit to your veterinarian for a complete blood count is the best first step if your cat is compulsively eating cat litter.

Is my cat eating litter out of boredom?

Boredom is a cause of pica in both humans and animals, so your cat may need some additional enrichment and playtime. (Check out these tips for enriching your cat’s environment.) If your cat comes running to dive into the fresh litter when you completely clean the cat box, they may just enjoy taking a dust bath in the clean litter.

What can I do to stop my cat from eating litter?

Your first step should be a visit to your veterinarian to rule out nutritional deficiencies and other health issues. Others steps include:

  • Making sure your cat is eating a high-quality well-balanced commercial diet that they enjoy, so they are less likely to look for other things to appease their appetite. Visit the Cat Food Selector at Purina.com to explore diets that match your cat’s life stage and personal taste.
  • Try different types of litter to find one your cat finds more appealing as a bathroom than a snack. Non-clumping, pellet-based litters are less likely to give your cat the urge to gorge. Visit the Tidy Cat’s Litter Selector to find the best match for your cat.
  • Provide your cat with other things to chew, like potted cat grass, fresh catnip, or tasty cat treats hidden throughout the home for your cat to hunt and eat.
  • Play with your cat to relieve boredom. Check out these 9 games you can play with your cat!
  • If your cat enjoys rolling in fresh cat litter, a quick brushing and damp washcloth after the rolling session will help remove litter caught up in long fur, so your cat isn’t swallowing it while grooming.

If your veterinarian has determined your cat is healthy, and you can’t redirect your cat’s litter-eating, ask your veterinarian to recommend a professional cat behaviorist to take a deeper look at your cat’s fascination with the taste of kitty litter.

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